Season’s start a kick for Tampa Bay Rowdies fans
ST. PETERSBURG - An organized mob of people dressed in green and yellow marched the streets of downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday evening, chanting, shouting and waving flags. Their demand: to see the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team win another championship this year in the North American Soccer League. Ralph’s Mob, named after the mustachioed mascot of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, drew confused looks, cheers and honks from car horns Saturday night as it marched from Crowley’s Irish Pub on Central Avenue to Al Lang Stadium on Second Avenue South for the team’s first regular-season game. “When this crew is there, there’s no way that anybody doesn’t know it,” said Shirley Hastie, a diehard Rowdies fan since the team first incarnation in the 1970s.“Flags, drums; with this mob, it means mob,” she said. Energized by the team’s league championship last year, Rowdies fans expect their ranks to swell as the team enters an increasingly competitive league this year. The Rowdies faced off against the Carolina RailHawks Saturday for their season opener. While the Rowdies had a mediocre preseason, Chris Dominguez, vice president of Ralph’s Mob, expects the team will get back into top form as the regular season progresses. “I think the team right now is trying to basically build up chemistry, because they just added new players,” he said. The team’s roster largely has remained the same since last year, though there have been changes such as new goalkeeper Diego Restrepo, who is competing with Andrew Fontein to be the starter. “Last season we began pretty slow, but toward the end, you saw what happened,” Dominguez said. Ralph’s Mob grew in official members to more than 200 last season, with about 600 casual supporters. The group looks to grow this year. Mob President Charlie Cole said an increased interest in professional soccer in the United States is boosting the Rowdies’ fan base. When supporters of international teams realize there’s a local team they can support, they’re hooked, he said. “They’re looking for a chance to go out and experience that live in person,” he said. John Sasse is so devoted to the mob that he changes his hairstyle for each game throughout the season to show his team spirit. For the first game, Sasse sported a neon green and yellow beard twisted into spikes. Other than getting rowdy with fellow mobsters, Sasse said he’s looking forward to a repeat of last year’s season. “Back to back championships,” he said, “that would be a perfect cap to the season,”
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